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-C.S. Lewis
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Isaiah 6:8-9
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Watch and pray - turn off the TV!

When Jesus was with his disciples in Gethsemane, He gave some of the most valuable instruction in the history of the world.  It's easy to read these verses and write them off as something you're familiar with, but I'd like to suggest that within them there is something often overlooked that holds tremendous value and importance.

Jesus In Gethsemane

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me."

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?" he asked Peter. "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."

He went away a second time and prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."

When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!"  (Matthew 26:36-46)
Jesus asks a few simple things of His disciples while they are in Gethsemane.  He asks them to sit, stay, and keep watch with him.  He finds them sleeping and is let down.  Again, he tells them to watch and pray so that they will not fall into temptation.  He left again, finding His disciples asleep once more upon His return.  Then, this happened a third time.  When He returns the third time, He tells them that the hour is near and to rise.

Watch and Pray

Jesus tells us to watch and pray so that we will not fall into temptation.  We are told that our Spirit is willing (to not fall into temptation), but our body is weak.  That is to say that if we do not watch and pray, we are likely to fall into temptation of things that are not of God; things that He knows are not best for us.
To watch means to keep watch spiritually for yourself and those around you, praying that they may be filled with the Holy Spirit and not fall into temptation.  Watching means to be spiritually awake and alert, paying close attention to any shifts in the atmosphere around you.  Keep watch to make sure that your surroundings do not influence you, but that you remain constant in God.  Do not let your surroundings influence you, but instead influence your surroundings.  Watching makes you spiritually alert, allowing you to be correctly positioned for every situation, reacting with a Kingdom response.  Prayer is this response.  Too often we are caught by surprise while sleeping, and we respond incorrectly to the situation.
If it's distracting you from God, don't waste time following organized sports, watching TV, or being lazy.  Even the things that are not sin must be taken out of our lives if they are holding us back from the King.  Just like Jesus told His disciples, the time to wake up is now.
And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. (Romans 13:11)

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Hindrances to Hearing God

How does God speak to you?  What keeps us from hearing God?  I'm sure there could be a million different things that could get in the way of us hearing God, but all of these things center around the same problem: thorns.  Thorns prevent us from hearing God.  In Mark chapter 4, we are told that three things choke the word: cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in.

“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow.  And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it.  Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth.  But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away.  And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop.  But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred." (Mark 4:3-8, NKJV)

And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word.  And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.  These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness;  and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble.  Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.  But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.” (Mark 4:13-20, NKJV)

Cares of this world are things that are often necessary for life in the societies we live in.  These things include school and work.  These are not bad things.  However, they can become a large hindrance if we get so wrapped up in them that we forget about the most important thing of all; a relationship with Christ.  Often times the cares of this world can invade our lives so much that these things become a drug to us.  We can become addicted to busyness.  We end up having a life jam-packed full of things to do, yet somehow it doesn't seem like much of a life.

The deceitfulness of riches is related much to our trust in God.  If we let riches deceive us, we ultimately lack trust in God and believe that our big screen TV, trip to Hawaii, or brand new car will somehow satisfy us greater than any non-material possession that God could give us.  We couldn't be more wrong.  Growing up in a materialistic culture, this is exceptionally hard to grasp.  We would much rather have mediocre instant gratification than the greatest prize of all that we cannot yet see.

The desires for other things can be defined as anything that distracts us from a purposeful relationship with Christ.  Often times these things can be sinful, but they are certainly not limited to sin.  An addiction to television, sports, business or any other thing lacking an eternal purpose can be just as distracting from God as an addiction to drugs can be.  We simply cannot keep living day to day focusing on the future, believing that some day we'll change.  The time is never later, the time is always now.  Each day we let pass where we don't create some kind of eternal purpose is a day lost in this world.

By far, the biggest reason we have difficulty hearing God is that we're not listening, or we have selective hearing.  It's absolutely crucial that we build a daily relationship with Christ.  Everything else in our lives flows out of the health of that relationship.  We have a choice to make.  Live life without Christ, or live life for and with Him.  If we choose the latter, we must be fully committed and fight the good fight.

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen. (1 Timothy 11-16, NIV)

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Dreaming In Vain

Dreaming In Vain

Given the correct context, a healthy thing for a Christian to do is dream.  When we dream, we often imagine something beyond our reach.  We imagine something we cannot accomplish on our own.  We dream of something that requires a higher power to carry out.  The problem with dreaming about something is that we must not dream in vain.  When we dream in vain, believing that our dream will have no effect, we disable ourselves from accomplishing that dream.  But there is hope; we don't have to dream in vain, because we have never dreamt anything so extraordinary that God has not first dreamed Himself.

Dream vs. Hope

I began thinking about what the difference might exactly be between a dream and a hope.  Here are a couple definitions I found interesting.

Dream - a wild or vain fancy.
Hope - to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence.

This makes it seem like a hope is more realistic - something that is more likely to actually happen and not a wild thought you had in your mind.  In scripture, it seems to be pretty clear that God is a god of hope.  We see this in many different places.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

God Is On Our Side

We should constantly be hoping to see great things happen with God: to introduce a friend to Him, to have an impact on your school's campus or workplace, to pour out His Spirit in the darkest areas.  We don't need to dream in vain.  God is with us, and He is a great god.  Expect great things.

Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."(Matthew 19:26)

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No Discipline Seems Pleasant

Why is it that we sometimes consistently struggle with the same things over and over again?  Why are we able to consciously make bad decisions, knowing they will be bad, and regret them later multiple times?  We lack discipline.  Discipline is not fun, and it is not easy.  Luckily, discipline produces a harvest.

"Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:7-11, NIV, emphasis added)

Discipline can apply to nearly anything.  Often times while learning discipline, we need to learn how to say no to something, or yes to other things.  It's necessary.  It's hard.  But God promises us that being disciplined by Him is worth it.  One of the most important disciplines you can develop is to spend time with Him daily.  It's surprisingly not the easiest thing to do, but so important.

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Wake Up, Child, The Fruit Is Too Valuable

God Doesn't Want 10% of Your Money

Sometimes today there is a common misconception within the church in regards to money.  Many people think that it is required, or at least a good goal, to "tithe" your money, giving 10% of it to the church.  Although widely practiced today across the world, it may come as a shock to some that God doesn't want 10% of your money.  Let me rephrase that more clearly.  God does not want only 10% of your money.  God wants all of your money.  No, he isn't a greedy God that wants to make you poor because you've given all of your money to Him.  However, on top of all your money, God wants all your time, all your relationships, and every other thing, whether or not it is tangible, in your life.

It's imperative that we give all we have to God.  We can only keep what we give away - an interesting concept, I know.  Personally, I've discovered that although God wants everything in my life, what He always seems to want the most is what I don't want to give up to Him.  This is where the tithe comes in.  Money is an issue for many people, and it's increasingly easy to serve money and not God.  The tithe is a simple, measurable way to at least take a step towards knowing that money doesn't have complete control over us.  If we give the first 10% of everything we make to God, it's certainly a good place to start.  Ideally, we should give as much money to God as we can afford (church, helping the poor, etc.), but what's really important is that money has no control over us.  We need to understand that we wouldn't have it if God didn't first give it to us.

The Fruit Is Too Valuable

We must give God all that we have, and if we tell Him we'll do that, we absolutely must.  The Lord deals harshly with those that lie to the Spirit.  Just as a further illustration of giving all to Him, can we keep watching our favorite TV shows or listening to our favorite music?  Maybe, but we certainly can't keep it if it's an idol in our heart.  However, even if something isn't an idol, we must push aside ALL things that may not even be sin in our lives, but distract us from pursuing Him at all.  We have no time for comfort.  The time is now to seek Him.  The Spirit is placing a demand to let these distractions go.  The fruit is too valuable to be distracted by anything not having an eternal purpose.  The world will always out-entertain us and out-buy us.  But with all their billions they can't buy what we have.  God's gifts are freely given.

Wake Up, Child

I'm convinced that the current condition of the church is directly connected to the image of God in people's minds.  If we refuse to give all to Him, we likely don't believe deep inside our hearts that He is indeed a judge.  We often skip out on some of God's traits and flock to the areas that make us comfortable.  He is loving, He is merciful, but He is also a judge.  We must wake up out of spiritual death and religious complacency.  Do we really believe in the Word?  Dig in and search it out for yourself.  If we believe the book, God demands ALL from you.  His Word DEMANDS absolute action and obedience from your life or you must not believe it in the deepest parts of your heart and soul.  Keep in mind that God should never come first on your priority list.  He is Lord of everything and He should BE the list.

I've heard before that this past generation would have rather had good kids, not Godly kids.  Why would parents not want Godly kids?  Because Godly kids would convict parents of their lifestyle.  Let's not be a generation that raises good kids.  Raise Godly kids that will convict you, but before that happens you must be a sincere child of God yourself.

Take a few minutes to think and pray about what you haven't given to God.  Maybe you're not giving him your trust in a relationship, maybe you struggle with giving up any of your money, or maybe you have difficulty giving Him some of your time so you can get to know each other better.  Whatever it is, you need to give it all to Him.  Only when you give all to Him can you experience a relationship with Him in the way it's meant to be experienced.

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Time To Seek The Lord

In the gospels, we're told to seek the Lord.  "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened." (Matthew 7:7-8)  This could be interpreted in a couple of different ways.  We could say that if we sit down for two minutes, ask God for something, seek Him, and knock on a door, then we'll get whatever we ask for, find Him, and have that door opened.  All of this in two minutes.  Is this possible?  Sure it is.  God has no boundaries in which He must work in, but I'm confident that we don't always exactly understand this passage how it is fully intended.  When we're told that he who seeks will find, it's important to note that he who diligently seeks will find.

We must establish a daily seeking of the Lord.  He must always be at the front of everything we do.  I'm convinced that if there was a clock in Heaven, the big hand would be pointing to "time to seek the Lord," and it would not be moving anywhere.

It's not a business contract that you sign with God.  There's no document that says you'll get whatever you want if you spend X amount of time with Him every day.  Our most important goal should simply be to fall in love with Jesus.  Out of this flows everything else.  How can we do this if we only spend five minutes with Him a day, or if we only spend those five minutes reading about Him, not building a relationship with Him?  If we say that God is the most important thing to us in our lives, is spending five minutes a day with Him enough?  I'm going with no on this one.  For a parent, is five minutes a day (or a couple minutes once a week, or less) enough time to build a strong relationship with their child?  No.  It's a constant, ongoing relationship.

The closest understanding we have to what a relationship with God should look like is our worldly relationships.  Do you genuinely get to know someone by reading a book about them?  Or by spending a mere five minutes with them everyday (if that)?  No, relationships take loads of time and effort to make them strong.  There is an anointing you can only get in the secret place, alone with God.  Pray and listen.  The relationship goes both ways.  Scripture tells us of times when people thought they had a relationship with God, but He said to them that He didn't even know them!  "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" (Matthew 7:21-23)

It is important that we set goals on how we will seek God.  If you need to, break up the time throughout the day.  Pray and read for five minutes in the morning and five minutes at night.  Start somewhere and focus on being consistent.  If you'd like to commit to seeking the Lord for 28 days, I invite you to start today, right now.  Read one chapter of Matthew for the next 28 days and pray for five minutes.  Do something.  Pray that God will strengthen you and give you the desire to spend time with Him.  He can't make you do it.  It takes personal responsibility.  It's worth it, trust Him.

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He's Searching For The ONE

Take a look at your church, your youth group, your fellowship or your small group.  God is among you in these places, and He's searching for one person.  Not hundreds, not the whole church, just one.  One person is all He needs.  Sure, hundreds of strong people can make an impact and God wants them all, but all He needs is one dedicated person.  One person that is available; one person saying, "Here am I, Lord.  Send me."  We often think that we need to get a thousand people together if God is going to answer our prayers.  Large numbers are good, but one prayer of faith will usually do it.

He's looking for the one person that burns for Him.  Not the person that burns for Him during church, or at a worship event with lights and loud music, or in a Bible study with other encouraging Christians around.  God is looking for the one person that burns for him when there are no bright lights; when there is no music; when there is no crowd.  He is looking for the one person that burns for Him when nobody else is around; the person that is on fire for Him when nobody else is watching.

He's looking for the one to stand up, to encourage, to ask to pray for others when no one else will.  He's looking for one person to be different and stand up for what's right; unafraid to walk out on a movie, unfazed when sharing their faith.  He's waiting for one person to ask Him, "God, what would you do if I prayed?  If I took my friends to church?  If I stepped out and shared my faith with others?  What would I see you do?  I've already seen you do great things, but what else can you do?"

All God needs is for one person to make themselves available.  Throughout the course of scripture, we follow the stories of many people.  Some for a short while, others for longer times, others just as a quick mention in a group (such as "the five thousand").  But we consistently see God using just one person to change the course of history; just one person to shake an entire nation.  This lifestyle was not reserved for Biblical times.  This is the life each of us are called to with Christ.  If the life you live can be accomplished by a non-Christian, without the power of God, then what makes you think that you need Him in the first place?  Live outside the realm of human possibility.  Love.  Go.  Make yourself available.  Don't just be a nice person, make disciples.  This is our calling.  Be the one.

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A Spiritual Pulse

As Christians, we are called to a life of love and service. We are the hands and feet of Jesus on the Earth. We are here to do His work. His gospel is a gospel of action, love and power. We are called to live radical lives of being madly in love with Him, and giving Him what is His; our entire lives and everything in them. Our money and jobs, relationships, time and all other things He has provided for us are ultimately His. Not some things, but all things. Sometimes the things He wants most are the things you don't want to give up to Him; money, time, trust, comfort to name a few.

We're called to make disciples of all nations, but how quickly do we forget this call only to focus on climbing the career ladder, getting perfect grades, or even pouring time into friends and family in a non-purposeful way? How easy is it to become too comfortable with our daily routines and never be pushed beyond our boundaries, beyond what is possible? If we live our lives within the realm of human possibility, much of what Jesus has called us to do has already been discounted and written off. Could you even imagine what your town would look like if every Christian that regularly attended church there lived the life Jesus calls them to? "Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give." (Matthew 10:8, NKJV) We've received plenty. How much have we given? Surely if we obeyed this call Christianity would be looked at as less hypocritical.

While stuck within the realm of possibility, how afraid are we of death in the flesh? If we truly believe in a resurrection and eternal life, why do we live our lives here on Earth as if it's the only one we have? We seldom take true risks for Him and constantly live in fear. It's all too easy to deny this fear by fooling ourselves into thinking that we have a great life, be it a good job, friends, family, or going to church every week and living the "Christian" life. Fear of the flesh is a devil. Denial and complacency can easily be fueled by fear. We have been spoon-fed too much and have become dull of hearing. We need to step out of our comfort zones.

Our bodies of the flesh have a pulse as blood is pumped through our veins. This blood is crucial for life, and it's generally safe to say that if your pulse is gone you're not far from dying, if there is any life left in you at all. Our spirits must also have a pulse when we are made new and begin to follow Jesus. But do we really have a pulse? If we have no life in our veins, or if the pulse is very weak, we must ask ourselves if we are truly in His grip in the first place. Are you any different than before you met Him? Are the old habits dying? If we give our lives to Jesus in the way He would want us to, our pulse would be racing on the Spirit's adrenaline every moment of our lives. You'd be able to feel it, and others could see your veins popping out from the pressure. Our God is not a sometimes God, or even a 99% God. We must live our lives for Him at all times. Ask yourself what it truly means to have life in your veins. I can assure you it is more than church on Sundays and an occasional read of scripture. If we are not outward focused and constantly sharing the gospel and love of God with those who need it most, we are not living the life He wants us to. Church is meant to be an equipping time. There's a reason that it only meets for an hour or two a week. It's meant to be empty. The church was meant to leave the building. This is the Great Commission. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." (Matthew 28:19, NKJV) How difficult is it to make disciples of all nations when we are stuck in our daily routines and comfortable watching corrupt television during our "free" time (which is God's time in the first place)?

Don't fear what can kill the flesh. Fear what can slowly but surely eat away at your soul. Don't become complacent and satisfied with your 9-5 job and Sunday church meetings. Live life with an extreme sense of urgency. Look back on your life someday and regret things you did, not things you didn't do. Be on fire for God and live the life you are called to. Get excited when you worship. Get angry when you see things that just aren't right. Ask God to defibrillate your heart so your body can be full of life. Maybe someday we can all understand what it means to truly live every breath for Him.

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